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Virginia Regulators Considering Amendments to Rules for 150 Megawatt Solar Projects

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) has taken the first step towards amending existing permitting procedures for small solar energy projects. The potential amendments may help sustain the recent proliferation of solar energy in the Commonwealth. Since its adoption in 2012, the Small Energy Renewable Energy Projects (Solar) Permit by Rule has led to the permitting of thirty-one projects with a combined capacity of over 800 megawatts. Currently, sixty additional applicants have provided notice of their intent to construct and operate qualifying solar projects, with a combined additional capacity of 3,000 megawatts. 

The Permit by Rule streamlines the application and permitting process for solar energy projects with a capacity between 150 and 5 megawatts and that occupy 10 or more acres (small solar energy projects). Under the Permit by Rule, VDEQ authorizes the construction and operation of all small solar energy projects with a completed application that satisfies the rule’s project criteria. Applicants must submit:

  1. Proof of local government approval.
  2. Certification that all requisite environmental permits have been applied for or obtained.
  3. Interconnection studies and the interconnection agreement.
  4. An operating plan.
  5. A site plan.
  6. Certification that the project’s capacity will not exceed 150 megawatts.
  7. An analysis of potential environmental impacts, natural resources, and, if required under the rule, a mitigation plan.
  8. Any requisite fees.

Additionally, applicants must provide a 30-day public notice and comment period and hold a public meeting pursuant to procedures specified in the rule. 

Rather than proposing any specific changes to the Permit by Rule, VDEQ solicited public comments on how to best clarify the rule’s definitions, public participation procedures, and natural and cultural resource study requirements. VDEQ also sought public input on how to “establish clear timeframes for data submittals and recordkeeping activities.” VDEQ is currently formulating a Regulatory Advisory Panel to assist in developing proposed amendments to the Permit by Rule. As a part of this process, the Regulatory Advisory Panel and VDEQ will review all comments received during the public comment period (which closed on June 26, 2019). VDEQ will ultimately publish proposed amendments for public review, though the timing has not yet been announced.

Beveridge & Diamond's Renewable Energy industry group supports and enables successful and sustainable renewable energy projects, helping clients overcome a number of environmental regulatory and transactional hurdles. We help developers, energy companies, manufacturers, and other participants with issues such as construction and land use impacts, endangered species, stormwater management, hazardous materials, and waste. For more information, please contact the author.